The New Jersey Devils have avoided an arbitration hearing with Mirco Mueller, agreeing to terms on a one-year deal instead. The contract will carry a salary of $1.4MM, and render a hearing date of July 28th unnecessary.
Mueller, 24, will still be a restricted free agent at the end of the deal and could file for salary arbitration again in 2020. He may have an even better case then if he is given the kind of opportunity he finally received last season. After being pulled up and down for years between the AHL and NHL with the San Jose Sharks, Mueller finally found himself on the move to a new organization in the summer of 2017. That didn’t change his situation very much though, as he played just 28 games for the Devils in his first season with the club. That changed in 2018-19 however, as the Swiss defenseman set career highs in games played (53), assists (10) and points (11) while getting a good amount of ice time.
There isn’t a lot of offensive upside in the 2013 first round pick, but Mueller is a capable defender that can handle himself against good players and contribute short-handed. That’s a valuable player for a team that now has several offensive weapons on the blue line in the form of P.K. Subban, Damon Severson and Will Butcher. The question will be if Mueller can get himself into the lineup on a regular basis with the addition of Subban to the group pushing everyone down a peg. Butcher is actually still a restricted free agent and has an arbitration hearing of his own scheduled for August 2nd.
While this deal gives Mueller some security for next season, it will be interesting to see if he earns himself another qualifying offer in 2020. The Devils have top prospect Ty Smith who will likely be pushing for a roster spot at some point, plus cap concerns of their own coming down the pipe. Though the team has tons of room right now, extensions for Taylor Hall, Sami Vatanen, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt—who are all scheduled for free agency next summer—could eat up quite a huge chunk of money. If he can establish himself as an everyday option on the third pairing there should be room for him on the team, but arbitration for a part-time player may be too pricey.